The Story of the Jesus Boat (Sea of Galilee Boat)

It was a cold February morning in 1986.  A wintry mist hovered above the surface of the Sea of Galilee – tiny droplets of water, suspended in the cool air, as if waiting to see what was about to happen. Moshe and Yuval Lufan, brothers and archeological enthusiasts from Kibbutz Ginosar, went for a stroll on the north-west shore of the Sea of Galilee. It was a time of drought, and when the waters receded –  they stumbled upon something that would change their lives forever.

They found a coin.

A coin.

One coin.

Then another one. Then one more.  Then a nail and another, and before they knew it, they were staring at an outline of a boat.

The boat was 8.2 meters long, 2.3 meters wide and 1.2 meters high. According to its size, the boat would have had five crewmembers and the help of a sail or two pairs of oars.  It was most likely used for fishing and transport.

With the help of the pottery found next to the boat, it was determined that it was in use 2,000 years ago; scientists then used carbon 14 testing, and combined those results with conclusive evidence based on ancient hull construction techniques.  This incredible find opened a window to a period of special historical significance, during which the shores of the Sea of Galilee were the background for Jesus and his disciples.  Or maybe this is an example of the boat mentioned by the historian Yosef Ben Matityahu, when he described the battle near the shore of Migdal in the great rebellion between the Jews and the Romans.

This was a huge discovery, but this is not a story of a discovery. This is the story of dedicated people on a journey to preserve and restore one of the greatest archaeological miracles of all times.

And so it began.

Moshe and Yuval started the incredible​ ​discovery journey by calling their father, Yancha Lufan, who was an experienced fisherman from Ginosar and an amateur archeologist in his own right.  They asked him to take a look at what they had found, however the boat was unfamiliar to him.  Shortly after, they contacted Dr. Mendel Nun, a well-known researcher whose focus is the Sea of Galilee and is additionally a veteran fisherman from Ein-Gev (on the other side of the Sea).  After gently exposing a small fragment from the side of the boat, Dr. Nun explained to the brothers that the boat is ​ancient and that they should contact the Israeli Antiquities Authority immediately regarding their findings. At that moment, lo and behold, a rainbow appeared in the sky, and the brothers knew that this was a sign for something especially auspicious.

Underwater archeologist Dr. Kurt Rave, and archeologist and author Shelly Waxman, both from the Israeli Antiquities Authority, arrived at the scene in wet suits that same day, only to discover that the boat wasn’t in the water, but sunken in the mud near the sea. After a short inspection, the archeologists told the brothers that the boat indeed was ancient, a message which filled them again with joy, just as the rainbow reappeared again.

It took eleven exciting days until the archeologists from the Antiques Authorities, along with many local volunteers, started to remove the boat.  When rumors started to spread about a great discovery from the time of Jesus, people from all over the world rushed over to have a look for themselves.

During late February 1986, as the Sea of Galilee steadily started to rise, the archeologists feared the boat would be immersed again in the water.  Shelly Waxman addressed the government agency overseeing the Sea of Galilee, asking them to help stop the rising level of water.  This request reached the President of the State of Israel and the Minister of Agriculture, and they together devised a solution – the directors of the Sea of Galilee arranged two strong pumps to pump water from the excavation pit, then prepared a defensive wall and placed sacks filled with sand by the children of Ginosar between the boat and the sea.

Each individual piece of wood was marked and recorded.  The boat was built using an ancient construction method – first the shell was built and then the rest was adjusted accordingly.

After using different materials to preserve the boat and in order to calculate how best to transport it, the scientists needed to test the boat to first see if it would float.  They did this test by filling up the excavation pit with water pumped from the Sea of Galilee – and lo and behold, the boat started to float for the first time in 2000 years!!  Only then was the boat released from the excavation pit and the boat started sailing away to the sound of the loud applause of all the spectators who came to witness the miraculous voyage.

The newspapers published: “After two thousand years, the boat sails on the Sea of Galilee again, on the way to the fisherman’s wharf in Ginosar”.

The team inserted an iron structure under the boat, designed by the construction engineer, Uri Hermel, in order to lift it with a crane and bring it to land, to a conservation pool.  Just a day before, the crane had almost flipped over.  It was a very dangerous moment, as any additional movement could lead to the whole project falling apart.  Everybody trembled with fear- they were still not sure.

The following day, the crane company, “Sachaf”, sent in a bigger crane which they donated to help lift the boat- and when that succeeded, everybody felt relieved.

The boat was placed on fiberglass legs with heat-resistant pipes; both are also resistant to the preservatives that would enter the pool when everything was ready.

The boat laid in the preservation tank for ten years due to the chemical process.  Each week the wood on the corner of the pool was tested to see when the boat would be ready for drying.

And finally, the time came to empty the pool.

They started emptying the pool early in the morning with the help of their loyal team and three pumps.  After some obstacles along the way (electricity problems with the pumps, etc.), they got close to the bottom of the pool where the pumps couldn’t help anymore.  A senior member of the team jumped into the boiling pool and with a wiper, steered the water towards the pump’s pipe.  A photo crew from “Albatross” was invited to attend the ceremony, and as they photographed behind the glass wall, there suddenly was yelling – one side of the boat was collapsing.  Just in the nick of time Yuval and Moshe grabbed the side that was coming apart, and safely helped support it against the wall.  One of the photographers came right up to the glass wall in order to take photos of this stunning scene, and as a result of exposure to the heat, his camera exploded into pieces.

The boat then went through a drying process that took an additional year, and then the time came to lift the boat.

Slowly, the boat entered the museum, the crane fitting exactly and not touching its surroundings, neither the floor nor the ceiling, until it was carefully placed on the big temporary jacks. Standing on stainless steel legs, the jacks could finally be removed.  The job was done.  A bottle of champagne was opened, and quickly the tourists started rushing to the site (although the boat was still wrapped).

To this day, the boat is displayed in the Yigal Allon Museum in Kibbutz Ginosar, on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. It draws tens of thousands of Christian pilgrims and history enthusiasts each year from all around the world, who come to witness the most significant Christian discovery and archaeological miracle of our times.